Conversion: A Dirty Word?

The following is an excerpt from a lengthy article on the 9Marks website, which I can’t recall having visited before, but which has a lot of interesting articles online all focused on helping Christians be better able to defend the Gospel. If you’ve got a few moments, check out what they claim are the 9 Marks of a church that glorifies God. This definitely looks to be a site this elf wants to browse around further. Note, however, that this is an unabashedly evangelical reformed Protestant site. (Predominantly Southern Baptist, it appears.) I for one find the final line of the excerpt below offensive in how it lumps the Vatican and the WCC together. Nonetheless, in this elf’s opinion, this was a worthwhile and thought-provoking read. –elfgirl

What’s the point of the story? Conversion is dirty word. It’s scandalous in today’s pluralistic and relativistic world to contend for one religious truth over and against another. It smacks of pride, arrogance, disrespect, perhaps hatred, maybe even violence.

This is the consensus among many of the secular elite. Popular television personality Bill Maher believes Christianity can only be explained as a “neurological disorder.”[1] Only the most unenlightened, uneducated, and uncouth Neanderthal would both believe and contend for a conversion to religious faith, especially Christianity. It’s absolutely what the modern man does not need.

And Maher simply represents what secular humanism as a movement has been saying all along. To quote from their own manifesto, “traditional theism”¦ and salvationism”¦ based on mere affirmation is harmful, diverting people with false hopes of heaven hereafter. Reasonable minds look to other means for survival.”[2] Reasonable minds”¦you can hear the condescension dripping from the pen.

Some go further, of course. They say such attempts at diversion (i.e. conversion) actually breed violence.


Yet it seems that conversion is even under attack among some professed evangelicals. This ought to strike us as nonsensical. Our English word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word for “good news.” What is this good news? It is that we, who are at enmity with God in our sin, can now be reconciled to him on account of Christ’s death and resurrection, when we repent of our sin and believe upon Christ. Conversion from our former way of life and thinking to Christianity is required. This much should be blatantly obvious.

Nonetheless, Brian MacLaren, perhaps the most prominent leader within the emerging church movement, calls for a reconsideration of conversion, if not an outright rejection of it. He writes in A Generous Orthodoxy,

I must add, though, that I don’t believe making disciples must equal making adherents to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (though not all) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts. This will be hard, you say, and I agree. But frankly, it’s not at all easy to be a follower of Jesus in many ‘Christian’ religious contexts, either.[5]

We are told to embrace other faiths “willingly, not begrudgingly.” To be fair, McLaren asserts the uniqueness of Christianity apart from other religions.[6] And yet his belief in “a gospel that is universally efficacious for the whole earth,” his unwillingness to “set limits on the saving power of God” in reference to the unevangelized, and his belief that we must continually expect to “rediscover the gospel” as we encounter other religious traditions, “leading to that new place where none of us has ever been before,” raises significant and serious questions.[7] Frankly, I have difficulty seeing how he is recommending anything Christian, let alone orthodox. In the end, his proposals are eerily similar to those being set forth by the Vatican and the WCC.

The full entry is here. It is really quite comprehensive. The various sections are as follows:

(hat tip: TwoOrThree.Net)


Posted in * Resources & Links, Resources: blogs / websites, Theology, Theology: Evangelism & Mission, Theology: Salvation (Soteriology)

3 comments on “Conversion: A Dirty Word?

  1. Ed the Roman says:

    I don’t know, maybe the Vatican and the WCC are willing to agree that conversion shouldn’t be under penalty of death from either the old religion or the new.

    It’s not like WCC [b]includes[/b] the Roman Catholic Church, for crying out loud. We never even joined it.

  2. The_Elves says:

    Perhaps I need to clarify what I found offensive about the line about the Vatican and the WCC. Maybe I should have left out my editorial comment. But the line did trouble me.

    The author writes:
    [blockquote]Frankly, I have difficulty seeing how he is recommending anything Christian, let alone orthodox. In the end, his proposals are eerily similar to those being set forth by the Vatican and the WCC.[/blockquote]

    Makes it sound like the author is claiming that both the Vatican and the WCC are not orthodox. Perhaps not Christian. And both fundamentally opposed to preaching the necessity of conversion to Christianity.

    Now, I’m no fan of the WCC and not going to defend them. I don’t think they do preach Christ. Yet I do believe the Catholic Church generally faithful proclaims the message of salvation in Christ.

    Looking at the document cited in the footnotes:

    I do not see clear evidence that this leads to a conclusion that the Vatican is promoting something antithetical to conversion. Guidelines for inter-religious dialogue are quite different from claiming that there is salvation apart from Christ.

  3. Ross says:

    I like the WCC. You probably would have guessed that.

    Speaking of ecumenism, I’ve been spending this week at an ecumenical workshop on liturgy and worship spaces; Wednesday we were hosted at St. James Cathedral here in Seattle. (That’s the Roman Catholic cathedral, for those of you who don’t live here.) Given the Vatican statement released the previous day, it was a somewhat awkward discussion.

    As for the article… I admit that I’m uncomfortable with the end goal of evangelism as understood by evangelists and — I’m guessing — reasserters in general: that all other faiths will “softly and silently vanish away” as their adherents are converted one by one to Christianity. No more mosques, no more synagogues, no more Buddhist or Hindu or Shinto temples anywhere.

    If I thought there was the remotest likelihood of such a thing happening, it would scare me. In biology, populations that lack sufficient genetic diversity are inherently vulnerable; a disease that attacks one member of the population can attack all the members because they’re all too similar. A diverse population will be far more likely to have some members resistant to any given disease or environmental change.

    I think the same thing is true of theology. It’s not that I think that all faiths are equally true; but I do think that all faiths have elements of truth and none of them have got it all right. But a diversity of religious theological viewpoints means that no matter what destructive meme comes along, there will be some traditions that are ready and able to combat it.

    I do think that there should be evangelism in the sense of every faith and tradition being able to present its own clear identity, allowing for a free movement of people from traditions that don’t satisfy them to ones that speak to them. I’ve known people who have converted from Judaism to Christianity, and others who went the other way; and that’s as it should be.